L-arginine: Potential benefits, side effects, and risks
Like other amino acids, L-arginine plays a role in building protein. The body can use the protein to help build muscle and rebuild tissue.
As a result, researchers have investigated the effectiveness of L-arginine in the treatment of severe wounds and tissue waste in serious illnesses.
What is L-arginine?
L-arginine is found in eggs, fish, and red meat.
In addition to building protein, L-arginine releases nitric oxide in the blood.
Nitric oxide acts to widen blood vessels in the blood stream, which may help aid certain circulatory conditions.
A person's body naturally produces L-arginine under normal circumstances. People also get additional L-arginine as part of their regular diet.
Red meats, fish, dairy, and eggs all contain low amounts of L-arginine that help the body to replenish its necessary resources.
Occasionally, a person's need for L-arginine may exceed the body's ability to produce or consume it naturally. This is often true for older adults or people with certain medical conditions.
In these cases, people may be prescribed artificial L-arginine in the form of oral medication, injections, or creams. Several potential health conditions may benefit from an increased intake of L-arginine.
Some people take L-arginine as a supplement. As with any supplement, a person should use it with caution.
Although L-arginine is considered safe in moderate doses, too much L-arginine can have severe side effects, including death. It is important to understand how the supplement may interact with the body and with additional medications before taking it.
Benefits of L-arginine
L-arginine has two effects: it turns into nitric oxide and helps the body build protein.
These effects give L-arginine an array of potential benefits that range from heart health and chest pain to helping to build muscles, repair wounds, and improve male fertility.
Although there are many claims about the benefits of L-Arginine, not all of them are supported by scientific research studies.
The following are some examples of researched benefits and uses of L-arginine:
- growth hormone reserve test
- reducing high blood pressure
- correcting inborn errors of urea synthesis
- treating heart disease
- treating erectile dysfunction (ED)
- easing inflammation of the digestive tract in premature infants
- controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes
Additionally, L-arginine may have the potential to help with many other issues. However, more research needs to be done to evaluate further L-arginine's potential to do the following:
- improve blood flow
- heal wounds faster
- alleviate anxiety
- treat burns
- improve kidney function for people with congestive heart failure
- enhance exercise performance
There are several additional areas that researchers are interested in exploring regarding L-arginine and its effects on the human body.
It is essential for anyone interested in taking L-arginine as a supplement to talk to their doctor about the potential benefits and risks before starting to use it.
Also, people should fully understand and examine the claims a manufacturer is making about their product before using it.
Side effects of L-arginine
For certain groups of people there may be some risks involved in taking L-arginine as a supplement.
L-arginine has some potential side effects to be aware of when taking it as a supplement. Some of the more common and benign side effects include:
- abdominal pain
- airway inflammation
- low blood pressure
- blood abnormalities
- worsening of asthma
However, L-arginine may result in some serious complications that must be considered.
Risks and complications
L-arginine has some potentially serious risks for certain groups of people.
- serious illness or death in children and infants
- difficulty controlling blood pressure during surgery
- worsening of herpes flares
- increased risk of death after a heart attack
- negative interaction with certain medications, including Viagra and blood pressure medications
Although there are risks associated with L-arginine, most research indicates it is safe for people to take in small doses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not monitor the safety or effectiveness of supplements, so it is important to choose a reputable brand.
Supplements are available to purchase online, but as with any supplement or medication, a person should consult a doctor or dietician before taking L-arginine, as the risks may outweigh the potential benefits.
Natural ways to get enough L-arginine
A major benefit of obtaining L-arginine through diet is that it is difficult to get too much. Therefore, some of the side effects of consuming too much L-arginine can be avoided.
On the other hand, food consumption alone may not provide enough L-arginine to meet a person's needs. A person should discuss their options with their doctor prior to changing their diet.
Plant based proteins such as chickpeas are a good source of L-arginine.
The best natural source for L-arginine is food high in protein. For some people, animal proteins, such as red meat (beef), chicken and turkey breast, pork loin, and dairy products, may be the primary source of L-arginine.
For people who do not eat meat, plant-based proteins that contain L-arginine include lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and soybeans.
People who find they have a deficient amount of L-arginine to meet their needs may want to modify their diet to include foods rich in protein.
A dietician or doctor may be able to make meal plan suggestions to boost natural intake of L-arginine prior to taking supplements.